Workplace safety remains a critical issue, impacting more than 1 million Americans each year. In response to the challenge that employees face, California enacted S.B. 553 last fall, mandating that employers with more than 10 employees in the state of California develop workplace violence prevention plans, along with other requirements, by July 1, 2024. 

Laws like S.B. 553 are essential tools for safeguarding employees that ensure employers meet legal standards, implement preventive measures and foster a culture where reporting incidents is encouraged without fear of reprisal. While the challenge is in implementation of these laws, they do help establish clear guidelines and requirements, reducing employer liability, enhancing public image and promoting societal values of maintaining a violence-free and harassment-free workplace. Compliance with these regulations creates a secure work environment, boosts employee morale and supports organizational success and social responsibility.

Defining workplace violence

According to S.B. 553, workplace violence includes: 

  • The threat or use of physical force against an employee that results in or is likely to result in injury, psychological trauma or stress. 
  • Incidents involving the threat or use of firearms or other dangerous weapons, including common objects used as weapons. 

Workplace violence can involve employees, employers, customers, clients or visitors and can take various forms, such as verbal abuse, threats, physical assault, property damage or other aggressive behaviors. 

This is a significant concern for both employers and employees because of its impact on individual well-being and the overall workplace environment. Preventive measures often include developing and implementing policies, training programs and security measures to address and mitigate these risks. 

Key provisions of S.B. 553 

The new law requires California employers to create a workplace violence plan that includes: 

  • Methods and protocols: Address unsafe or unhealthy conditions and work practices. 
  • Hazard recognition: Regularly scheduled inspections to quickly identify and rectify unsafe conditions and practices. 
  • Adherence to practices: Systems ensuring employees follow safe and healthy work practices, with disciplinary actions for non-compliance. 
  • Emergency response procedures: Effective procedures for responding to potential or actual workplace violence, including alert protocols, evacuation plans and seeking assistance from security and law enforcement. 
  • Program implementation: Identification of individuals responsible for program implementation. 
  • Training programs: Occupational health and safety training for employees. 
  • Communication system: Establishment of a communication system for occupational health and safety matters, emphasizing the reporting of workplace hazards without fear of reprisal. 
  • Incident logs: Definition of logs recording workplace violence incidents, including details like date, time, location and type of incident. 
  • Post-incident response: Procedures for responding to and investigating incidents. 

How to prepare your business  

As the deadline approaches, organizations that employ California residents must consider several factors

  • Leadership: Larger organizations with dedicated security and risk management teams may lead these efforts, while smaller organizations may need external resources, such as consultants, to develop a plan. 
  • Training: Collaboration between security and risk teams, as well as human resources, is critical for defining and implementing training. 
  • Defining the role technology plays: Technology can streamline the gathering of information for post-incident response and investigation, integrating video, access control data, response notes and emergency communication logs to assist law enforcement. 
  • Implement incident and case management: Using technology to gather and present critical information efficiently can help organizations comply with the new laws. 

There are a few steps that can be taken when preparing a workplace violence prevention plan for your company, regardless of whether you have a need to be compliant with the S.B. 553 law. They include, but are not limited to: 

  1. Risk assessment: Conduct a thorough workplace violence risk assessment to identify potential hazards and vulnerable areas, as well as consult employees for insights on potential risks. 
  2. Develop policies: Draft a clear, comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy to ensure the policy includes zero-tolerance statements, then communicate the policy to all employees. 
  3. Establish prevention measures: Implement physical security measures (e.g., consider adding surveillance cameras, establishing controlled access areas, etc) and develop safety protocols for high-risk situations. Additionally, create procedures for reporting and responding to incidents. 
  4. Engage in employee training: Develop and conduct regular training programs on recognizing and responding to workplace violence that include conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. Train employees on emergency procedures. 
  5. Enact an emergency response plan: Create a detailed emergency response plan that includes evacuation routes, shelter-in-place procedures and communication protocols. As part of this, designate roles and responsibilities for responding to incidents. 
  6. Ensure you have incident reporting and investigation capabilities: Establish a clear incident reporting system and ensure employees can report incidents anonymously if preferred. Develop a procedure for investigating incidents promptly and thoroughly. 
  7. Engage additional support resources: Provide support services for victims of workplace violence (e.g., counseling, legal assistance) and establish a peer support network. 
  8. Regularly review and update planning measures: Schedule regular reviews and updates of the workplace violence prevention plan, incorporating feedback from employees and incident reports. Make sure you update the plan based on changes in the workplace or new risks. 
  9. Develop a communication plan: Develop a communication plan to keep employees informed about safety policies and procedures using multiple channels (e.g., meetings, emails, intranet) to disseminate information. Going further, encourage open communication and feedback. 
  10. Ensure proper documentation and record-keeping: Maintain detailed records of all incidents, reports and investigations; document training sessions, attendance and materials used; and keep logs of safety inspections and maintenance of security systems. 

Prioritizing workplace violence prevention ultimately supports organizational success and the well-being of your employees. While S.B. 553 might currently only apply to California employees, many states are elevating these conversations to protect employees from threats, which means having a plan in place on how to address and prevent incidents of workplace violence should be top of mind for security leaders.